Another version of A Christmas Carol? Is there a reason I should get excited about this or a reason to just care one way or the other? I mean most of us are practically born knowing this story, and it is not like I cannot find another version readily available. With that said, there is still something about the Charles Dickens' story that is awfully inviting. I guess that is why so many directors want to try their hand at it. Robert Zemeckis is no different, he set his sights on the perennial holiday tale and attempted to put his stamp on it.
My most memorable memories of the Dickens' classic are of the characters. Mickey's Christmas Carol and A Muppet Christmas Carol are my strongest experiences with the story, although I have seen the 1951 incarnation with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, as well. The Sim version is most often cited as the finest version, standing above the myriad incarnations before and since.
This new Zemeckis A Christmas Carol is the twentieth feature film version, and does not count all the television productions (and let us not forget the radio adaptations). Considering how many versions there are out there, I am sure there are more than a few of you who have already decided to skip this one. Seriously, who needs another one? Well, let me tell you that while we probably don't need another one, they will continue to come, and this one is not half bad. As a matter of fact, it is quite good.
This version felt a lot more accurate and true to the source than I was expecting. Considering that Jim Carrey was cast as Scrooge and the family might of Disney put up the funds, one might expect a family-friendly, comedic tone. But, it's not. Frankly, there are some scary moments, creepy elements, and an overall darker tone than I was expecting, and I was glad for it. While A Christmas Carol is an uplifting tale, it has a very strong cautionary element that seems to have been played down in many of the versions I have seen.
The movie opens with the Dickens text and a zoom through his first sentence: "Marley was dead: to begin with." Emphasis on the word "dead." This was the first sign that this was going to be different. The second sign was the camera lingering Marley's dead body in his wooden coffin as Scrooge haggles price with the undertaker. The third sign was the use of old English style dialogue. These things taken together all contribute to the fresh feel of this film.
I will not give you the plot rundown, we all know about the visits of the three ghosts and the importance of their message. I will say that the scenes shown to good old Ebenezer had more emotional impact than I was expecting. Scrooge is not a nice guy, but you learn a lot about him along the way.
Something else struck me about the film. I think it was Jim Carrey in promotional material who said this is one of the greatest ghost stories of all time. Funny thing is, I never looked at this as a ghost story. Undoubtedly it is, but I always saw it as a Christmas movie first. This light tweak to my thought process opened up a whole new aspect to the film. It was almost like seeing it for the first time.
How about the performances? They are all fine. Jim Carrey does a good job embodying Scrooge. He was recognizable, but restrained and it worked. Carey also plays the ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past is a creepy little candle with a habit of flickering its flaming head while wearing a persistently creepy grin. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a big, jolly fellow with a regal air about him. The supporting cast includes Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Robin Wright-Penn, and Cary Elwes. The entire cast turns in fine work bringing the story to life.
When watching this film one must not forget director Zemeckis who also wrote the adaptation. He seems intent on bringing live action and animation together, as seen in his previous two films (Polar Express and Beowulf). His work with motion capture technology should be applauded, and it keeps getting better. A Christmas Carol is the most polished look he's yet acheived. The characters feel almost real, not quite bridging the uncanny valley but he is trying.
Beyond that, he knows how to use 3D to great effect. It is often like looking through a window. There is depth and volume to the creations and very little in the way of gimmicky "gotcha" moments of things trying to poke you in the eye. 3D may not be the future, but when used properly, with reason and restraint, it can be an effective tool in the filmmaker's toolbox.
In addition to the motion capture work, Zemeckis brings a lot of style to the film. His characters zoom freely across the screen yet sill have weight. The scenic design is finely detailed. There is even a throwback to one his own live action films (once you see it, you will know what it is).
I left the theater knowing that I liked A Christmas Carol. As I sit here writing, it is growing into more love. Zemeckis is not afraid to take chances, and he took a few with this one, from the darkness, to the scares, to the dialogue. In my eyes everything paid off. Is the film necessary? Ultimately no, but so what? It is a classic tale destined to be told and retold.
Bottomline. It may have been released a bit too soon in the season to be most effective at the box office, but there is no denying that it is a very good film. I was drawn in to the style, affected by the emotion, and caught up in the spectacle. This is well worth seeing, although I would hesitate bringing younger children, as there are some frightening moments.